No, not that 666; we’re looking at John 6:66 which says,
NIV • John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
A popular title four years ago was Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. Although we were quite familiar with his work before this, it was his breakout book, and I reviewed it here as well as reviewing the video curriculum.
The premise of the title is that Jesus had many fans, but few followers; and the verse in John describes a time when Jesus introducing what is sometimes called the “hard sayings” and after that, it seems as though he is culling the herd, deliberately emphasizing the cost of following over the benefits.
The Message • John 6:60 Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”
61-65 Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”
66-67 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”
68-69 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”
I got thinking about this when I received another notification on the weekend that I had six new followers on Twitter. Because I have three fairly active blogs and had an association with a major Christian news magazine for nearly two years, I never thought my Twitter following would be so anemic. It’s been stuck at around 330 people for a long time. (I now joke that we’re very selective and you have to complete a lot of paperwork to be a follower. You can have pity on me by clicking here.)
So if I’m gaining about five new people a day, shouldn’t I be growing at the rate of 150 per month?
Not at all. Someone explained to me that these people are clicking in hoping I will reciprocate and follow them. When I don’t, they un-follow, and there are no notifications for that. They disappear quietly. The point is, I don’t have a lot of time; I don’t carry a smart phone with me all day, and I prefer to follow a rather select list of authors and organizations, plus a few anonymous accounts to lighten the day. (I did pick one from among that recent crop of six.)
In other words, they were following me hoping I would follow them.
It’s the same in John 6. The timeline in John is a little different; if this were in Matthew, the chronology would put it around chapter 15. So this is well into the ministry life of Jesus.
It’s the same today. People are looking to Jesus to see what they can get, not what they can give. They will follow his agenda if he will fit into theirs. Like my Twitter account, many of our churches have many people arriving by the front doors, but we fail to notice those who are leaving by the back doors.
In Twitter-speak, what Idleman calls fans, I would call short-term followers. Jesus is looking for long-term followers. His book is based on Luke 9:23
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
We’ll end today with how I condensed Kyle Idleman’s breakdown of what that means: